On June 8, the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) joined 49 organizations in issuing a statement in support of the free press. The statement, drafted by the National Coalition Against Censorship, comes in response to mass protests following George Floyd’s murder.
“The American people have witnessed the bravery of health care providers and other essential workers who have put their lives on the line to fight the coronavirus pandemic,” the letter states. “Now that we face another national crisis following the death of George Floyd, it is important to recognize the courage of the journalists who are under attack as they cover the national protest against police violence and racial inequality.”
There have been more than 320 reports of journalists being harassed, arrested, assaulted, and hurt during the Black Lives Matter protests. According to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, most of these incidents have been at the hands of the police. The foundation reports that police officers are responsible for 80 percent of the attacks — 47 physical assaults, 83 uses of rubber bullets and other projectiles, and 74 uses of tear gas and pepper spray.
While some journalists were injured due to close proximity to protestors, others were hurt even after they identified themselves as members of the media. For example, Molly Hennessy-Fisk, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, was hit by rubber bullets and a tear gas canister in Minneapolis. Recalling the incident, Hennessy-Fisk said, “We were not caught in the crossfire. They pursued us. And they knew that we were reporters and photographers.”
Additionally, despite the fact courts have ruled that recording the police is protected by the First Amendment, protesters have been targeted for exercising this right. In Kansas City, a now viral video shows police pepper spraying and arresting a man at a peaceful protest. The video shows the man talking to the police from the sidewalk. The man appears to be recording the encounter on his phone. Moments later, the police move in.
“A free press is essential at a moment like this. Americans need to see what is happening in their streets,” the letter says.
“We strongly urge public officials to do everything in their power to protect journalists and demonstrators, including punishing police officers who have willfully violated First Amendment rights,” the statement concludes. “Democracy depends on it.”